North Korea has begun the dismantlement of its nuclear test site at Punggye-ri, the closure of which it plans to disclose to foreign media; satellite imagery showed on 8 May.
According to 38 North, a US website monitoring Pyongyang, the imagery taken 7 May showed “definitive evidence” that the dismantlement was “already well underway.”
“Several key operational support buildings, located just outside the north, west and south portals, have been razed since our last analysis (April 20),” it said.
Some rails for mining carts and several sheds around the site have been removed, while some carts have been disassembled, according to the imagery.
But larger buildings around the facilities and the entrances to tunnels remain intact.
“This may be because on May 12 the official Korean Central News Agency announced that the final dismantlement of the Punggye-ri nuclear test ground would be witnessed by foreign journalists and would involve the ‘collapsing all of its tunnels with explosions, blocking its entrances, and removing all observation facilities, research buildings and security posts,'” the website said.
In April, North Korea said it would shut down the nuclear site and halt nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests, an apparent attempt to show its commitment to denuclearization and build trust before its leader Kim Jong-un’s summits with President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump.
At the summit with Moon, Kim said he would allow foreign journalists and experts to witness the closure. On Sunday, the North set the dismantlement date for between 23 and 25 May and said Tuesday it would invite eight journalists, four from wire services and four from broadcasting stations from South Korea, and others from the US, Russia, China and United Kingdon.
However, Pyongyang excluded nuclear experts from the invitation list made in its initial promise, and this has raised suspicions over the North’s sincerity in its pledge to remove all its nuclear weapons, as it seems to want to avoid inspection by experts.
Katina Adams, a spokeswoman at the US Department State’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, expressed such concerns. “A permanent and irreversible closure that can be inspected and fully accounted for is a key step in the denuclearization of the DPRK,” she told Voice of America.
But others say it is understandable for Pyongyang not to disclose its nuclear-related facilities to experts at this stage of talks, adding it may invite experts later after Kim’s summit with Trump.
“If foreign experts are allowed to see the real situation of the reclusive regime’s nuclear facilities, they can learn what level the North’s nuclear technology is and how much nuclear materials it has,” Park Ji-young, senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said.
North Korea doesn’t need to show all its cards ahead of the summit with the US slated for June 12, she said. “The Washington-Pyongyang summit has not started yet, and North Korea doesn’t need to open the level of its technology to the world, whether the level is higher or lower than it used to brag about.”
She said a proper inspection would be available when the denuclearization process begins officially if the Washington-Pyongyang summit is successful.
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